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Je suis en Paris! 8 Things I Learned on Vacation

Part of the reason I moved to England was so I would be able to more easily travel to other parts of Europe and the world. This week, that dream was realized: I'm in Paris, just a hop, skip, and two-and-a-half hour train ride from my home.

France is about four-fifths the size of Texas, making it the largest western European country, and is, according to a BBC survey, the fourth most popular country in the world. Paris, its largest city, is a dreamscape of curlicue ironwork, grandiose statues, and leafy boulevards, which, especially in the warmer months, tends to smell alternately of baguettes, cheese, and urine (seriously).

We're currently staying in the fabled Montmartre area, once home to bohemian artists, writers, and hangers-on, now home to artists, tourists and aggressive guys who try to coerce you into buying 20 euro string bracelets. For the most part, it's been all picnics by the Seine, falling asleep in the odd museum, eating far too many baguettes, and generally celebrating the old Parisian joie de vivre. I am, however, looking forward to returning home to England, where my red and peeling nose may finally allow me to be accepted as one of their own "“ not having seen the sun in a few months, I, like other English holiday-makers before me, got a little bit too excited about it.

Anyway, I'm taking a brief break from all that baguette-ing and fromage-ing and meandering up quaint streets to offer up a few quick interesting things that I've learned about France (aside from the fact that people here will pee on anything that stands still and a few things that won't).

Also, while on this trip, I've been reading Lucy Wadham's The Secret Life of France, which has been invaluable in compiling this list as well as extremely entertaining.

1. There's a phenomenon in France called "Yoghurt," when Francophone folks sing (loudly) bizarre homophonic versions of English songs, with oftentimes comic results: Queen's "I Want to Break Free" becomes "I Want to Steak Frites." It's like Franglais, but slightly less intelligible.

2. France is the world's leading consumer of psychotropic drugs, whether prescribed by a physician or not; that fact alone is interesting, but consider also that the suppository tends to be the preferred method of medicinal delivery in France. Of course, France has some of the best healthcare in the world, so maybe suppositories and psychotropic drugs are the way to go.

Baby_Bottles_of_Wine_Paris3. The country that birthed the restaurant industry, France is still on the vanguard of strange innovation in eateries. There's Au Refuge des Fondus, a fondue place in Montmarte that serves up wine in baby bottles, complete with the nipples; at Dans Le Noir, you eat entirely in the dark, served by blind waiters; and at Le Tresor, there's a goldfish swimming in the toilet.

4. "Paris Syndrome" is a medically recognized phenomenon, a psychological breakdown that occurs when Japanese tourists travel to Paris and find the city of their imagination is nothing like the reality. So far, I haven't found myself curled in the fetal position and rocking after being yelled at by a waiter, but there's still time.

5. In the aftermath of the French revolution, it was popular to host dinner parties featuring entirely black food: black wine, black eggs, black cakes, black whatevers, sometimes served in funerary inspired dinnerware. And you could bring a live pig to the table. True story.

6. Ever a people who appreciate a good uprising, this recent global recession has prompted a series of "boss-nappings" in France: Workers have literally been kidnapping their bosses or barricading them in their offices to protest real or rumored job cuts.

catacomb7. Perhaps one of the creepiest, although most popular tourist attractions in Paris are the Catacombs, an underground ossuary containing the remains of thousands of Parisians. In the late 17th century, Paris's officials finally decided to dismantle the Les Innocents cemetery, which was so overcrowded with poorly buried bodies that it was actually making the residents of the nearby Les Halles area ill, and to move the bodies to a network of underground mines and tunnels under the city. The bodies, blessed by priests, were conducted to their new home via black-shrouded carts under the cover of night and were then stacked in regular piles underground.

The successful move of Les Innocents opened the floodgates and over the next century, more of Paris's cemeteries would be emptied and the bodies moved underground. In the 19th century, the Inspector General of the catacombs had the idea of placing the bones in decorative designs (hearts, crosses, etc.) to increase tourism. Visitors would walk the winding subterranean paths through the bones armed only with a candle and following a black line painted on the ceiling above. It's been open to the curious public ever since, although only around 200 people are allowed in at a time, to make the two-kilometer trek. Dark, damp and close, the catacombs were perhaps one of the most surreal and coolest things I've seen in a long time.

8. Now, I haven't gone up the Eiffel Tower yet because I'm pretty afraid of heights and while I'm sure the view is lovely, I'm content to look at pictures. And then there's the fact that it moves: The top of the tower actually leans away from the sun, moving as much as 18 centimeters as the metal on the sunny side expands in the heat. In hot weather, it's been known to grow 15 centimeters taller during warm weather. Not much, but too much for me.

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Food
Hate Red M&M's? You Need a Candy Color-Sorting Machine
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iStock

You don’t have to be a demanding rock star to live a life without brown M&M's or purple Skittles—all you need is some engineering know-how and a little bit of free time.

Mechanical engineering student Willem Pennings created a machine that can take small pieces of candy—like M&M's, Skittles, Reese’s Pieces, etc.—and sort them by color into individual piles. All Pennings needs to do is pour the candy into the top funnel; from there, the machine separates the candy—around two pieces per second—and dispenses all of it into smaller bowls at the bottom designated for each variety.

The color identification is performed with an RGB sensor that takes “optical measurements” of candy pieces of equal dimensions. There are limitations, though, as Pennings revealed in a Reddit Q&A: “I wouldn't be able to use this machine for peanut M&M's, since the sizes vary so much.”

The entire building process lasted from May through December 2016, and included the actual conceptualization, 3D printing (which was outsourced), and construction. The entire project was detailed on Pennings’s website and Reddit's DIY page.

With all of the motors, circuitry, and hardware that went into it, Pennings’s machine is likely too ambitious of a task for the average candy aficionado. So until a machine like this hits the open market, you're probably stuck buying bags of single-colored M&M’s in bulk online or sorting all of the candy out yourself the old fashioned way.

To see Pennings’s machine in action, check out the video below:

[h/t Refinery 29]

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Pop Culture
The Strange Hidden Link Between Silent Hill and Kindergarten Cop
Universal Pictures
Universal Pictures

by Ryan Lambie

At first glance, Kindergarten Cop and Silent Hill don't seem to have much in common—aside from both being products of the 1990s. At the beginning of the decade came Kindergarten Cop, the hit comedy directed by Ivan Reitman and starring larger-than-life action star Arnold Schwarzenegger. At the decade’s end came Silent Hill, Konami’s best-selling survival horror game that sent shivers down PlayStation owners’ spines.

As pop culture artifacts go, they’re as different as oil and water. Yet eagle-eyed players may have noticed a strange hidden link between the video game and the goofy family comedy.

In Silent Hill, you control Harry Mason, a father hunting for his daughter Cheryl in the eerily deserted town of the title. Needless to say, the things Mason uncovers are strange and very, very gruesome. Early on in the game, Harry stumbles on a school—Midwich Elementary School, to be precise—which might spark a hint of déjà vu as soon as you approach its stone steps. The building’s double doors and distinctive archway appear to have been taken directly from Kindergarten Cop’s Astoria Elementary School.

Could it be a coincidence?

Well, further clues can be found as you venture inside. As well as encountering creepy gray children and other horrors, you’ll notice that its walls are decorated with numerous posters. Some of those posters—including a particularly distinctive one with a dog on it—also decorated the halls of the school in Kindergarten Cop.

Do a bit more hunting, and you’ll eventually find a medicine cabinet clearly modeled on one glimpsed in the movie. Most creepily of all, you’ll even encounter a yellow school bus that looks remarkably similar to the one in the film (though this one has clearly seen better days).

Silent Hill's references to the movie are subtle—certainly subtle enough for them to pass the majority of players by—but far too numerous to be a coincidence. When word of the link between game and film began to emerge in 2012, some even joked that Konami’s Silent Hill was a sequel to Kindergarten Cop. So what’s really going on?

When Silent Hill was in early development back in 1996, director Keiichiro Toyama set out to make a game that was infused with influences from some of his favorite American films and TV shows. “What I am a fan of is occult stuff and UFO stories and so on; that and I had watched a lot of David Lynch films," he told Polygon in 2013. "So it was really a matter of me taking what was on my shelves and taking the more horror-oriented aspects of what I found.”

A scene from 'Silent Hill'
Divine Tokyoska, Flickr

In an interview with IGN much further back, in 2001, a member of Silent Hill’s staff also stated, “We draw our influences from all over—fiction, movies, manga, new and old.”

So while Kindergarten Cop is perhaps the most outlandish movie reference in Silent Hill, it’s by no means the only one. Cafe5to2, another prominent location in the game, is taken straight from Oliver Stone’s Natural Born Killers.

Elsewhere, you might spot a newspaper headline which references The Silence Of The Lambs (“Bill Skins Fifth”). Look carefully, and you'll also find nods to such films as The Shining, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Psycho, and 12 Monkeys.

Similarly, the town’s streets are all named after respected sci-fi and horror novelists, with Robert Bloch, Dean Koontz, Ray Bradbury, and Richard Matheson among the most obvious. Oh, and Midwich, the name of the school? That’s taken from the classic 1957 novel The Midwich Cuckoos by John Wyndham, twice adapted for the screen as The Village Of The Damned in 1960 and 1995.

Arnold Schwarzenegger in 'Kindergarten Cop'
Universal Pictures

The reference to Kindergarten Cop could, therefore, have been a sly joke on the part of Silent Hill’s creators—because what could be stranger than modeling something in a horror game on a family-friendly comedy? But there could be an even more innocent explanation: that Kindergarten Cop spends so long inside an ordinary American school simply gave Toyama and his team plenty of material to reference when building their game.

Whatever the reasons, the Kindergarten Cop reference ranks highly among the most strange and unexpected film connections in the history of the video game medium. Incidentally, the original movie's exteriors used a real school, John Jacob Astor Elementary in Astoria, Oregon. According to a 1991 article in People Magazine, the school's 400 fourth grade students were paid $35 per day to appear in Kindergarten Cop as extras.

It’s worth pointing out that the school is far less scary a place than the video game location it unwittingly inspired, and to the best of our knowledge, doesn't have an undercover cop named John Kimble serving as a teacher there, either.

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